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Talking to kids about losing your job

When Millie Puldon learned her job would be eliminated, she agonized over how to tell her three kids. "I didn't want to worry them,'' recalls Puldon, a single mother. When she did tell them, her 9-year-old daughter broke into tears and asked, "Are we poor now?''

Job loss is hitting employees of all kinds, and it's delivering a profound blow to family stability. The latest U.S. Labor Department report says employers cut payrolls by 62,000 in June -- the sixth straight month of nationwide job losses. In South Florida, more than 140,377 people are out of work.

Job loss ranks in the top 10 most traumatic things that can happen to a person. It can affect relationships with kids, spouses and elderly parents and lead to the ultimate upheaval of relocation.

"Kids will feel the anxiety and tension that pervades your home, and they'll hear adults whispering in worried tones,'' says Damian Birkel, founder of Professionals In Transition, a support group for the newly jobless.

Parents often struggle with how to explain to their children why Dad or Mom is home every day in pj's and seems frustrated. When Birkel lost his job as a retail buyer, he went from shock to depression.

He took a direct approach in explaining the situation to his two children. "I reassured them that things will be OK, but that there will be adjustments that need to be made to the budget.''

As his job search dragged on, Birkel -- now a career counselor with Right Management -- developed a family action plan. "I put my daughter in charge of turning off the lights,'' he said. "She felt like she was doing something to help our situation.''

For some families, job loss provides an opportunity for life lessons and teamwork. When Victor Guzman and his wife, Damaris, lost their jobs successively and the combined income of more than $100,000, money became tight. They moved in with Victor's parents. The couple leveled with their 8-year-old son about their dire financial situation and talked to him about the difference between needs and wants.

"We had to tell him we could no longer do the things we did before, like go to the zoo or Seaquarium,'' Victor Guzman says.

Susan Dandes, a child psychologist on the faculty at the University of Miami, says kids worry most about how the loss of income affects them. She suggests talking openly and using age-appropriate language.

"Little ones are happier with basic information. They want to know that they are going to eat tonight.'' Older kids might require more information, she says. "You might want to talk about the economy and global issues, as well as how it affects your family.''

Puldon used her job search to teach her kids -- ages 18, 14 and 9 -- about the process. When returning from interviews, she discussed with her children the outcome. "I would say they aren't offering the money we need.''

She also talked to them about persistence and faith. A few weeks ago, she accepted an offer just as her severance pay ran out. "We all learned the value of staying positive.''

Many couples find getting a pink slip also tests relations between spouses and other family members. Kelly Allen said says it took a year for her husband to find a new job.

"My husband's way of looking for a job was sitting in front of the computer sending out resumes. I felt like he should be getting out and networking,'' Allen says.

Allen says she tried to be supportive through her husband's roller coaster of emotions, even as she became the family breadwinner. "I felt a lot of stress because everything was on me.''

To alleviate pressure, Allen suggests anyone unemployed go to support groups and workshops at employment centers like WorkForce One, where she works as a spokeswoman.

Today, seekers find job searches may take longer than expected, require a change in salary expectation or may require learning new skills. reports nine seekers for every job posting in Miami that pays more than $100,000.

One high-level executive said being unexpectedly out of work has affected his wife, son, parents and in-laws. He has had to have heartfelt conversations with each now about looking for a position outside South Florida. "The possibility of relocation is hanging over all of our heads. and it's uncomfortable.''

Pierre Taschereau, 49, has had his share of uncomfortable conversations. He recently shuttered his Fort Lauderdale mortgage brokerage after seven years and got a dose of reality when he sent out his resume. "My phone was just not ringing like I thought it would.''

His wife, an unemployed commercial real estate agent, found a new job within weeks. At that point, Taschereau says, he could no longer avoid telling his parents and in-laws he was out of work. "When I finally told them, it was a relief,'' he says. "Their encouragement has been a comfort.''